So you’re expecting your first baby, adding to your brood or have just had a little one and your finances have suddenly become a concern. It happens so easily and for us, this feeling pretty much kicked in from the moment I knew I was expecting my first.
The initial reaction for most when planning a baby or discovering they’re expecting is “how will we be able to afford it?” That was our exact thought process but as so many people told us, there’s never a perfect time financially to have a baby, so you just need to prioritise and budget a little and you’ll cope. Never were wiser words spoken.
For the first few years after Grace arrived we bundled along pretty calmly on a much smaller disposable income (which had now mainly become disposable nappy income!) and Grace’s arrival didn’t seem to make too much of a dent. We just adapted. You have to! Having a baby naturally means you’re out less with friends, out less for dinner so you seem to save a little quite effortlessly.
So then when we were expecting our second bundle of joy Evalyn and we also made the big decision to look for a bigger home, budgeting became a major priority for us. Not only did we need to monitor our food shopping bill a lot more carefully (it’s amazing how much you can spend each week) but we also had to become more frugal with how we eat, how to make meals go further and sacrifice a few other things along the way too.
These are our top budgeting tips for parents and as a family how they have really helped us to save the money we need whilst still enjoying ourselves at the same time; frugal shopping and eating, cutting back (not cutting out) on luxuries and bank account organisation.
Frugal Shopping & Eating
Because neither my husband or I are smokers or heavy drinkers we couldn’t start our budgeting by cutting any major vices out, so our first consideration when wanting to see if we could save money was watching how much we spend on food and trying to make our meals go further.
It’s so easy when walking around a supermarket to pick up anything and everything you fancy and without a shopping list it’s pretty impossible to keep to any kind of budget. So here’s how we try to keep focused when grocery shopping.
Firstly we set ourselves a weekly budget of say £70 (at the moment we’re having to include nappies and formula in that, eeek!). We then write a list of the meals we’d like to eat that week, taking into consideration what is already in the freezer and cupboards. We like to eat up as much as possible and don’t have a massive stock (that’s partly to do with lack of space too – and why we need a bigger house!). We generally set out 7/8 meals and write a shopping list based on the items we need to get to complete those meals. Simple.
Most importantly for me is that we always take a shopping list when grocery shopping and as I remember my mum doing, I write the items down in order (or as much as I can) based on the order of the isles in the store, so that I don’t need to go down every one. That can be lethal! Stick to your list. This is pretty crucial, as deviation from it means your budget is shot. Of course we can all have a Friday night cream cake or cheeky bottle of wine here and there but generally try and keep to your list as much as possible.
With children in tow grocery shopping on a budget can be especially difficult, so we quite often incorporate the ‘Grace factor‘ into our budget from the start, so if we need to bribe her with something to keep her quiet for the duration of the shop, we’re not going to run over budget. Awful as it sounds, I think we’re all guilty of opening a packet of rice cakes on the way round, pre-payment. Nomination for best parent of the year? Don’t think so! But if it works, don’t knock it!
With the carrier bag charge taking effect from the 5th October, it’s never been more important for parents on budgets to take reusable bags with them. We always try to do this anyway but will be even more so from now on. A large shop could end up costing you another 50p, which sounds small on it’s own but over a whole year would be approx £26 and nobody should be wasting £26 on carrier bags!
When we’ve made meals in the past, we’ve not always been the most frugal with leftovers. Apart from saving and freezing extra portions for the children, I’ve not really made the most of other parts of a meal that we don’t use. For example I eat quite a lot of tinned plum tomatoes, I just love them, but always used to throw the juice away. Now I pour it into a freezer bag, stick it in the freezer and defrost it when I need extra juice in a spaghetti bolognese, curry or chili. I also now pick off any chicken from a roast dinner, separate into white and red meat, bag and freezer ready for a curry or chicken pie. This makes such a lovely treat when you discover it weeks later at the bottom of the freezer! So many people do this but I never have. There are so many little techniques for saving and freezing food like this that I’ve now embraced.
Since we’ve been applying these few frugal techniques to how we buy, cook and make our food, I think it’s made a real difference to our weekly expenditure. We still enjoy treats on a weekend, but have also cut back on some of the more expensive treats and found cheaper alternatives and to be honest we haven’t really noticed much of a difference. I think it’s all a frame of mind really and I’d rather have something cheaply, than nothing at all. Especially when it comes to sweets and treats!
Cutting Back on Luxuries
Something that had become quite a routine for us, prior to baby number two and saving for a new house, was a takeaway on a Saturday night, with naughty pudding and a bottle of wine. I guess it was probably costing us approx £25 per week, so consciously saying that we would only have a takeaway once a month instead has made a drastic difference to our monthly budget.
I used to also maybe pick up a couple of bottles of wine per week but now we drink one bottle over the course of a couple weeks. We find that cutting back, not cutting out luxuries really helps us to stay on track. Much like the Weight Watchers principle I guess. Not that I’m on a diet, although cutting back on takeaways and wine has definitely helped with the waist line!
Budgeting for us isn’t just about food though, with little ones it’s hard not to take them out and spoil them. Trips here and there, a new toy in Tesco, a packet of sweets, we’ve all been there and it’s lovely to treat them to the odd nice thing on a weekend when you’ve been apart from them for most of the week. On a budget family trips out have to be a little more restricted and we consider finances before making decisions on things we do and places we go now. Whereas before we’d just go for it. One thing we want to make sure of is that the girls don’d miss out, or at least that they don’t feel they miss out, so this is a real balancing act.
A major low for us over the last couple of years and next summer too possibly, is that whilst we’re keeping to a budget in order to get our new home, we haven’t been able to have a sunny holiday abroad. It’s been two summers now and feels like a lifetime! We’re really lucky that we’ve been able to have as many holidays as we have in the past but then when you cut right back, it’s hard. Grace keeps talking about going on a plane and we say that next year hopefully she will. Fingers crossed we’re in a better place financially and we can keep our promise.
Bank Account Management
Watching your finances in a couple of well organised bank accounts is a definite must and something that has really helped us to keep an eye on what we’re spending. We have separate bank accounts for saving and for outgoings.
At the beginning of the month we move the amount we would like to save into the savings account leaving enough in our current account for all our outgoings. When we spend anything we keep the receipts logging them in a note book and regularly checking they’ve come out of our account online to keep up to date with exactly what money we have remaining. This way it’s kind of like a triple effect that hopefully reduces any over spending.
I think managing your bank accounts closely is such a key to successful budgeting, without it I’d be lost most months not having a clue what money we’ve got and most likely overspending every time.
These three main principles for us are really helping us to stay on track for our new home (and new kitchen – so exciting!). Budgeting when having children is especially difficult as you don’t want to feel as though you’re not giving them what they want. Do a little research and you’ll find that there’s so much free stuff you can do with your little ones too. There’s so much out there that I’ve recently discovered.
For us we also have to remember the bigger picture. As a parent you want the best for your children and keeping the purse strings tighter for a couple of years will be all worth it when we move into our new home and see the smiles on their faces. Set your budgeting goals small, watch what you spend, accept that it’s not forever and you can do it!